Farhad Saba’s viewpoint about the future of distance education represents a biased opinion that ignores current market realities and that lacks supporting data. Specifically, Saba has incorrectly assessed the ability of traditional educational institutions to respond to current market needs as well as what those needs really are.
The assertion that traditional educational institutions only serve the needs of an industrial society is ludicrous. Saba believes that these brick-and-mortar operations simply can’t “take the necessary steps to change their structure to meet the demands of the post-industrial era.” According to Saba, traditional institutions will offer distance education, but will not do so in a meaningful way that promotes student autonomy. Over 87% of four-year colleges offered distance-learning courses in 2004, up from 62% in 1998 (What’s behind the explosive growth in distance learning education?). This increase as well as the growth in students who are both enrolled in distance education courses and courses on campus suggest that the markets for traditional education and distance learning “are not as distinct as they were originally envisioned to be” (Phillips, 1998).
Saba believes that “Alternative educational models, such as home schooling, and charter schools that can take advantage of distance education will grow.” Yet, it is unlikely that the types of students attending these institutions are the groups that will most benefit from the student autonomy encouraged by distance learning. For instance, online students are generally older and their life experiences make them autonomous, self-directed, and goal- and relevancy-oriented (Dortch, 2003; Diaz, 2002; Dubois, 1996). Thus, these are the types of continuing education students that traditional educational institutions have always served.
In summary, Saba’s analysis is flawed. Traditional educational institutions have and will continue to respond to changes in market needs. Currently, the demand for distance education is fueled by many factors, with student autonomy representing one of these benefits that plays best to students who continuing their education.
Diaz, D.P. (2002, May/June). Online Drop Rates Revisited. The Technology Source. http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html
Dortch, K.D. (2003, April 13-15) “How to get learners to learn.” Distance Education and Training Council: Report on the DETC 77th Annual Conference. http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html
Dubois, J.R. (1996) Going the distance: A national distance learning initiative. Adult Learning. 8(1): 19-21. http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html
Phillips, V. (1998, November 23). Re: Some online learning trends-stats? E-mail to Distance Education Online Symposium. http://technologysource.org/article/role_of_the_traditional_research_university_in_the_face_of_the_distance_education_onslaught/
What’s behind the Explosive Growth in Distance Learning Education? Distance Learning College Guide. http://www.distance-learning-college-guide.com/distance-learning-education.html
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